Of the roughly 3,400 American troops who were removed from service due to refusal of the COVID-19 vaccine, about 70 percent were labeled as general discharges, which leaves the door open to their return if they eventually do receive the vaccine.
According to Military Times, the “general discharge” label also allows the individuals in question to retain access to their veterans benefits. At a recent hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Pentagon officials said that the remaining 30 percent of discharges were categorized as honorable. There was no explanation given for which circumstances saw some determined to be honorable and others considered general.
“I can tell you there are no operational impacts across the force for readiness,” said Marine Corps Lt. Gen. David Ottignon during his testimony. “There’s no one community that has signaled an instance where a [leader], an NCO or another enlisted Marine is not present because of that.”
The Marine Corps has seen the highest amount of discharges over the vaccine mandate, with 1,968 total members kicked out, amounting to nearly 1 percent of the total force of 215,000. Of those nearly 2,000, about 20 percent received an honorable discharge. Overall, 97 percent of Marines have been vaccinated.
In the Navy, 798 sailors have been discharged, with all of them receiving honorable discharges. The Army discharged 345 soldiers, with just nine being given honorable discharges while another 36 were given general discharges “under honorable conditions.” And the Air Force saw the removal of 287 airmen, with 2 percent of them being honorable. Only the Space Force has not yet discharged anyone over the vaccine mandate.
The vaccine mandate for all branches of the American military was first announced in September of 2021 by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. The mandates have led to backlash, with some servicemembers filing lawsuits to secure exemptions for themselves that would allow them to continue serving without getting vaccinated. Several lawsuits are still ongoing, with all individuals involved seeing a delay in any potential discharge until the legal process is fully worked out.
Although there have been many requests for religious or medical exemptions, only small percentages of requests have been approved by each branch; out of over tens of thousands of such requests across all branches, the Air Force has approved just nine, the Marine Corps has approved a mere three, and the Army has approved only one.